Harvard SEAS lecture, 10/3/11, Grant Achatz and Craig Schoettler

Technically, tonight’s lecture was about texture and mouth feel, but really it was about the cocktails at Grant Achatz’s bar/lounge in Chicago. And since, it’s Grant Achatz we’re talking about, he doesn’t like limiting himself to the ordinary. “Why must cocktails be served in glass? Do cocktails need to be liquids?” You get the idea. And when cocktails have re-emerged as the new hip thing, how does one go about setting themselves apart? How does one go about making this about the experience overall?

These are the driving forces behind Aviary (named picked because it sounded nice and it started with an ‘A’ like Alinea).  And here are some of the results…

There is a lot of custom made stemware for Aviary cocktails to best serve their products.  Like a pitcher that doesn’t look like a pitcher (top image) – it forces the customer to drink only a little bit at a time, and as time changes so does the flavor of the cocktail.  Or a glass that’s made for foam with a stalk of lemon grass as a swizzle stick (bottom image).

Two of their favorite pieces of “kitchen equipment”are a rotary evaporator and a recirculating chiller.  The roto-vap can do things like making a clear liquid with the flavor you want.  In the audience mystery take-out box, we got a little container that held Fresno chili distillation.  The distillation give you the flavor without any of the spiciness.  With Aviary’s roto-vap machines, you can order a clear cocktail that holds all the flavors of homemade root beer.

As for the recirculating chiller, it cools super cools liquids as low as -35F.  (I think Fahrenheit.  They could have meant Celsius.)  It lets you make boozy slushies without any water dilution.  It can also make Aviary’s version of “on the rocks.”  Water balloons are suspended in the super chiller to make 1/8 inch thick ice egg.  This ice egg is then drilled and filled with the alcohol of choice before re-frozen, so you get a translucent piece of ice filled with a colored liquid.  You break the ice (customers are served the drink with a wooden sling with a ball bearing to crack the ice), and stir to have your drink.

Of course, you can make your drinks a solid.  Craig Schoettler demonstrated a powdered gin and tonic.  You mix together cornstarch, baking soda, powdered sugar, essence of quinine and essence of juniper (Aviary makes their own juniper flavoring by infusing a neutral grain spirit with juniper – they can’t use straight gin to produce the correct results).  The final powder tastes like gin and tonic (no, we didn’t not taste this).

The other edible cocktail demo was the second mystery item in our take out box.  On a play of Juliet & Romeo (a cocktail made from compressed cucumbers and gin, I think it was), we had pieces of pineapple infused with green chartreuse.  Dave Arnold, during the first lecture of the 2011 SEAS series, demonstrated this idea.  Dave Arnold took cucumbers and put them in lime juice (I think it was lime juice), and then stuck the whole thing in a vacuum.  Flash fusion takes place, and the water that originally existed in the cucumber was rapidly replaced by the lime juice, creating cucumber that was infused with lime.

In all, the discussion largely focused on Aviary, and not at all on Alinea.  (Unlike last year which was mostly on Alinea with mentions of Aviary.  Aviary was just opened this past spring.)  There was a small bit where Grant Achatz talked about his second restaurant, Next, which rotates its menu every six months with a new theme.  The first theme was Paris in 1906, and the second (and current) theme is Thailand.  Achatz announced that the third theme of Next will be “childhood” or more specifically Grant’s childhood in Michigan.  He gave us a sneak peek at his version of roasting marshmallows over the campfire: blue corn+syrup+sweet potatoes = logs, and tapioca+high proof alcohol+cinnamon+vanilla = flames.  I can’t remember if the marshmallows were ordinary marshmallows or not.  I do remember that there was streusel on the plate to equate graham crackers.

Things that Achatz and Schoettler would like to see at Aviary but still haven’t figured out: proper snow (they can only emulate it), vertically layered drinks, ice that will sink into your glass, and a lava lamp drink (which I think they’ve been working on since the concept of Aviary).

(all images originally owned by Aviary)
Reference links:

A random thought – I must admit that half of the lecture, my friend and I were staring at Grant Achatz’s shoes.  They were very swank, like John Fluevog level of swankiness but they didn’t look like a pair of Fluevogs to us.  I was very tempted to ask Achatz where he shoes were from during the Q&A session.  Let me know if you know what brand of shoes he was wearing.  lol!

Edit to add:  Dave Arnold made a blog post about at home vacuum infusions.  I thought you might like it.

2 thoughts on “Harvard SEAS lecture, 10/3/11, Grant Achatz and Craig Schoettler

  1. It’s funny that you noticed Grant Achat’s shoes! I was at the lecture last night and they caught my eye as well. I have to admit that even though I live in Paris, I haven’t noticed too many men wearing such swanky shoes. Thanks for such a great post with excellent descriptions of the drinks.

    • Thanks for the comment! Good to know that we’re not alone on the shoe thing! Personally I’m not a huge shoe person but some of my closest friends are John Fluevog fans, so I find that I’ve picked up their “shoe alert” habits. (^_^)

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